A while back my GF saw a cool looking antique like shadow box at Hobby Lobby that she liked, though the $50 price tag for something that isn’t really an antique turned her away. So for a present I wanted to make a shadow box of my own and to give it a classic antique look I reused some old wood fence slats!
Step 1: Materials
(2) 6’ Wood Fence Slats ~Free?
(1) ½” Thick Plywood 48”x48” or 48”x96” (cutting to 26”X18”) ~$15-20
(1) 3/16” Thick Plywood 24”x24” ~$8
(1) Pack 3/8" V-Nails $8.5
(1) Pack Glazier Points $5
(2) Hinges ~$4
(1) Sash Clasp ~$3
(1) Acrylic Plexiglass Sheet (I think I got one from Hobby Lobby that was 32”x20” or something in that range) ~$8
(1-2) Wood Stain $4-11
It cost me <$20 for the materials (wood stain cost the most) since I had the wood and Plexiglass from previous projects. If you have to buy all these items cost would be almost $60, but you would have quite a bit left over material.
*Note I have some repeat pictures of the drawing dimensions on their corresponding steps so you don't have to go back to this page to see them.
Step 2: Outer Frame
I started with some old fence boards. I chose these because they were nice and weathered and had good grain detail, a lot like old barn wood. Not to mention they were free! Wood like this is not terribly difficult to find, just keep a look out for anybody replacing old run down fencing.
I measured out the lengths of the outer frame and cut them using a miter saw. This could also be done using a circular saw, table saw, or even a handsaw. I cut one length 26” and the shorter side 18”
The fence wood is 5” wide so I was able to get (2) pieces off of each length with a long side of aged wood and a side of newer cut wood. (I used a table saw for this part but other saws would also work)
Step 3: Miters
Next, I cut the miter edges. These miters are supposed to be 45 degrees to form up a square frame. Since I want the shadow box to have a 1.5” depth I want to cut the miters so that they join across the width (see pic for clarification)
*Miter edges are not necessary, but look cool. If you decide not to or want to make the project a little easier just leave the longer lengths square and cut 1" off each of the short side lengths and nail together.
*The fence wood had some spots where the wood rotted a little bit. These spots were where the rails connected on the back side. I couldn’t completely avoid all of these spots given the lengths I needed, so I want to hide (for the most part) these sections in the interior of the shadow box. So to do this I needed to make sure my miter cuts toward the not-so-nice side of the wood so that the nice side stays the same length.
I adjusted the blade angle on my miter saw to 45 deg and stood the frame pieces up so I cut through the 2” width. (also can be done with a hand saw and a miter box)
Next, I assembled the outer frame and checked to make sure the pieces come together nice and square. Even with a miter saw I am at the mercy of the accuracy of my angle gauge on the saw which sometimes fudges a
little after I tighten it down. So I like doing a double check to see how things actually came out.
Step 4: Lid
I want the shadow box to have a lid that can be opened to add or remove display items without having to take the frame down. To do this I took the outer frame pieces with their miter edges and I cut a ½” off the 2” width. I wanted to do this after the edges were mitered so that everything fits the same even if the miters are slightly off.
(tip: mark the lid pieces so that you can easily match them up with the frame pieces they were cut from)
Next, I used V-nails to hold the final outer frame and lid frame assemblies together. These are commonly used for making picture frames and canvas frames which don’t have too much external force on them. They will also work for the heavier shadow box since I will be reinforcing the frame with a plywood back.
Step 5: Inner Frame
I have drawing dimensions of the inner frame, but I re-measured these with the completed outer frame since the fence wood could have warped areas that might change the lengths slightly. I ended up adding 1/8” to
all my lengths to make sure I didn’t have any that came up short.
Using the new dimensions I cut more lengths of wood using what was left of the fence slat. I cut to length using the miter saw and the widths on a table saw.
Next I placed the inner frame pieces inside the outer frame assembly to check how everything fits together. I had to sand a couple of the shorter pieces to help them fit better.
I assembled the inner frame and nailed them together using a finishing nail gun. (this can also be done with a hammer and finishing nails)
Step 6: Shelves
I had some left over 3/16” plywood from another project that I decided to use for the shelves. I marked these to match the centers of the inner frame.
**Note: Since these are not as thick as the inner frame the smaller pieces need to be longer than the inner frame pieces so don’t reuse those dimensions.
I cut the width of the shelves to be 1/8” taller than the outer frame, so I can countersink the shelves into the plywood back.
Step 7: Back Panel
I used ½” thick plywood for the back of the box so that it gives the rest of the frame a strong base and so that I can sink the shelves in to also give them strength. I cut the plywood using the dimensions of the outer frame.
Next I traced the centerline for all my inner frame pieces onto the plywood back and routed out 3/16” wide by 1/8” deep mortises. (I only recently added a router to my tool collection so I know seeing this part of the instructions can be frustrating.
So if you don’t have this handy power tool you can also use (2) sheets of thinner plywood (maybe 1/4”) for the back piece. You could cut one of the plywood pieces into section that match the pocket area in between the shelves and the frame. Then glue these sections to the back piece with 1/8” gaps in between and you’ll get the same effect.
Next test fit the shelves and make adjustments to the height of the shelves if necessary. Finally, glue the shelves in. I put the outer frame on the back board and used two nails to hold it in place while I glued up the shelves to make sure they fit in the right spots.
Step 8: Hinges and Clasp
I got some nickel colored hinges and a window sash clasp for hardware. I did have a problem with the clasp as you can see in the pic.
The manufacturer didn’t exactly manufacture a working clasp. One half of the clasp is too tall for the sash to cling to and so they don’t tighten and slip apart. I exchanged the clasp with Home Depot and the new one had the same problem. So I got my hammer out! I screwed both parts into a scrap 2x4 at a distance I thought they should be apart and lightly hammered the hook part until it was flush with the sash. This took a little finesse, but I was able to get the two parts to open and close tightly. I installed these on the lid and frame and made sure they secured the way they should.
I installed the Hinges on the opposite side at about 4” from each edge.
Step 9: Glass
I used an acrylic Plexiglass sheet for the glass. I found that the acrylic looks just as good as glass in picture frames, but much thinner and you don’t have to worry about it shattering if the frame falls of the wall.
I cut the glass to fit about ¼” inside the outer frame on the lid and anchored it down with modified Glazier Tack. To modify the tack I used pliers to grab the point end and press the square end (opposite of point) onto a table top to make a "T" (with the point downward). With the new "T" shape I can press the point into the wood and have a completely flat surface against the glass.
*Because I was working with a thinner material I didn’t really put much consideration into how I was going to fit the glass in the lid. Its only 1/16” thick, but I already placed my hinges and clasp and made sure they were nice and tight. So when I placed the glass I couldn’t get the clasp to lock with out putting a lot of pressure on the glass. I had to make adjustment to the hinges and clasp position (which was difficult because I had already drilled holes) and fudge more room to relieve some of the pressure on the glass. I also sanded the shelves down to give a little more room as well.
So in hindsight, I should have not made the lid outer frame flush with the inner frame. If I would have left 1/8” more on the outer frame the glass could be cut to fit inside it. I could also have routed a pocket space on the outer frame (1/8-1/4”) if I wanted to tuck the edges behind the frame as well. I could still Router out the pocket now, but I would also have to trim up the back side of the inner frame pieces.
Step 10: Stain
I had Lowes mix up some Antique Jade Stain to give it a classic look.
*I didn’t know you could get stain other than browns and golds with out a special order, but they have a color list in the stain section with blues and reds and other colors you don’t normally see. The only hitch is they will only mix up Quart size containers.
I wanted to make the inner frame and the back a different color to help items in the Shadow box stand out. I tested out a few different colors and ended up picking Golden Pecan.
I took the frame off the back panel and stained the box in sections. After the stain was dry I reassembled the box and added more screws to secure the back panel to the outer frame
Step 11: Finish
To finish I removed the protective covering from the glass and cleaned it down. I also let the box sit in my garage a couple days to let the stain fumes dissipate. I also added a personalization on the back of the box using a wood burner (before I stained it). You could also add a hanger to wall mount the box. I wasn't sure what orientation my GF would want it so I waited to see what she would want.
Then I wrapped the Shadow Box up and gave it to my GF. I'm not sure, but I think she liked it!
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